Guns, berets and leather jackets may be the images you associate most with the Black Panther Party. But what you may not know is how the political group shifted healthcare in the U.S. To be more community-based. Our government was not gonna provide healthcare. So, we were going to provide healthcare for the people. The Black Panthers opened free medical facilities, created the very first nationwide screening program for sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder. And they even helped establish a form of acupuncture. That’s still in use today. We spend a lot more time serving the people than we did protesting or defending ourselves from the police. So why isn’t the Black Panthers health care activism more widely known? Well it may be by design. History is written by the victors. The Black Panthers are not writing the history of the Black Panther Party Hey fam. I’m Imaeyen and this Sunday on AJ+, we’re exploring the Black Panther party’s history healthcare legacy and how a covert government program tried to bury it all. To understand what prompted the Black Panthers go right into health care, you first have to understand why it came into existence Here’s how co-founder Huey T. Newton explained the group. We are bound to transform society and Erect a system where our people will receive justice. The Panthers formed on the heels of the civil rights movement – a time when the push for racial equality and equity divided the U.S. 1965 was a pivotal year that helped spark the Panthers creation, according to former Black Panther at Billy Jennings. We had the murder of Malcolm X in February. Also you had the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And also you had the Watts Riot happening August of 1965, along with the Selma March in 1965. Then in the fall of 1966 a white police officer ran down and killed an unarmed teenager in a historically black neighborhood in San Francisco. It was a breaking point. The community rioted. The governor declared a state of emergency, and the next day, National Guard soldiers marched with bayonets through the streets. This was the fertile ground in America’s landscape that prompted Newton and Bobby Seale to found the Black Panthers Party for Self-Defense in October 1966. The Black Panthers initial mission was to police the police. Panthers followed patrol vehicles ready to defend their communities with force if they felt the need arose. This is a part of their legacy that the world remembers. But the physical self-defense was a fraction of the Panthers objectives. As their movement grew, so did their vision. Dr.Tober small was a physician to the Black Panthers, though he wasn’t a party member. They were not just people in black jackets carrying guns. They were interested in actually doing something for the community. The Black Panthers focused more on what they call survival programs – things like food assistance, free education, free legal aid. And one of their top priorities was free community healthcare. Most of our civilized countries will provide these services for the people. The Panthers realized that we didn’t have a civilized country. We were not providing these services for the people. As a young doctor small treated political activists like Angela Davis and George Jackson in prison. And when Bobby Seale issued a directive for all chapters to establish free health clinics in 1970, the Black Panther Party turned to Dr. Small to help build the program. I had all the pharmaceutical companies donating medicines to the George Jackson Free Clinic. I had doctors volunteering, nurses volunteering, med techs volunteering. Sheba Haven, who was a member of the Black Panther Party, says the Black Panthers approach to health care was radical. I think that they had a great impact on medicine in general because they were progressive not just in the idea that healthcare is a right but in the way that healthcare is delivered. The Black Panther Party interceded in places where the US government was seemingly absent, like its nationwide screening program for sickle cell disease. It was a first. The government was not prioritizing sickle cell anemia for the same reason that Jackie Robinson had to be the first black baseball player in 1948. For the same reason that the black troops were segregated during World War II. There was racism in this country. Sickle cell anemia was a disease that affected mostly black folks. Sickle cell is the single most common genetic disease in the United States. And the vast majority of patients are African American. It’s painful and deadly. And in 1970 the country only allocated less than $100,000 in funding. It spent $7.8 million on muscular dystrophy. $1.6 million on cystic fibrosis. $8 million dollars to get a man on the moon. and obviously sickle cell anemia was not a priority Then an intriguing thing happened in 1972. John Lennon invited Black Panther members and collaborators to appear on one of the most popular talk shows of the day: the Mike Douglas Show. And they seized the platform to address the problem of sickle cell disease. We’ve tested 30,000 people for sickle cell anemia and I think we’ve tested for more than anybody in the country. And just like that sickle cell became part of the national conversation. The Panthers used their medical infrastructure to run tests for sickle cell in cities all over the country. So it is objectively true that one of the defining public health initiatives of the early 1970s wasn’t launched by the U.S. government – But by an organized group of socialist advocates. The initiative gained so much momentum that President Richard Nixon signed legislation to aid research on finding a cure for the disease. By this point, the Black Panthers had become a major cultural force, operating on the international stage. Their philosophy shared common ground with Maoists in China. And as China began to normalize relations with the U.S., they country invited Huey P. Newton to visit months before receiving President Nixon. And that visit was a major reason acupuncture entered the American mainstream. Acupuncture existed in the Chinese community already, But the Chinese community in Americas was more insular and more like enclave, right? We introduced it to the rest of the world. The year after Newton visited China, he sent a delegation of 19 people to the country including Dr. Small. When they came back from 1972, we started talking my acupuncture more and we had people practicing as a puncture on both coasts. The Black Panthers also helped run the first health clinic to implement five-point ear acupuncture. That protocol is still used today to treat conditions like drug addiction and post-traumatic stress. So the group had a major influence on healthcare initiatives in the U.S. Why then does it seem like that narrative has been hidden? Why are the Panthers so often associated with this rather than this? It’s partly because of controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and a little program you may have heard of before: COINTELPRO. Well, one of the things J. Edgar Hoover always talked about was young black people being unified, a messiah coming to unify and black people, which he was terrified of, because her was a racist. COINTELPRO or counterintelligence program was a propaganda and surveillance operation that the FBI used to target activists, political groups and minorities. COINTELPRO was basically designed to destroy members of the movement that they felt were a threat to the American government American way of life. COINTELPRO’s goal was to discredit leaders and divide movements. Or, as the FBI put it at the time, “to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them.” The power structure did not want to show the survival programs of the Panthers. They wanted to paint them as people who were committing crimes and violence. Of the 290 operations carried out by COINTELPRO the Panthers were targets of 245. For those of you that enjoy math that’s more than 84% Hoover personally instructed 14 different FBI field offices “submit imaginative and hard-hitting counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling” the Panthers. They sent death threats, offensive cartoons and forged letters to different members in an attempt to disrupt and divide the group. Perhaps the most insidious part about COINTELPRO was how effective it in controlling the narrative around the party. What the FBI and the government wanted to push that the Black Panther Party wasa black and angry group and they were anti-white. So if you want to paint someone as a devil you’re not gonna paint them as providing healthcare, providing free food, taking care of elderly people to the hospital, providing a free ambulance service like we did in North Carolina. And in a way, it worked. Years of police raids, misinformation, incarceration and killings not only reduced membership, it left the organization financially crippled and ultimately unable to carry out its social programs. The Black Panther Party was officially disbanded in Today, many of the same structural inequities that the Black Panthers fought against continue, including access to healthcare. That’s resulted in some devastating statistics for African Americans. In 2017, the American Heart Association said that African Americans have the worst cardiovascular health and more deaths from heart disease than any other group. They also have higher rates of HIV, diabetes and chronic kidney disease A 2007 study shows that African-Americans are much less likely to trust physicians and the overall healthcare system. You’ll see the statistics for black folks is vastly inferior to the statistics for white folks, and the Panthers recognized that there’s racism in healthcare, which is why they got involved in trying to provide healthcare for the community. But the Black Panther party’s legacy lives on. Many Panthers and volunteers with the party have gone on to work long careers in public health and medicine. Even the New York health commissioner, Mary Bassett, spent her early career volunteering in the Black Panthers free clinic. The legacy of the Black Panther Party will not be forgotten because people those things are embedded within people’s families. Shortly before he was killed by police in 1969, Black Panther Fred Hampton said he this: “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can never jail the revolution.” And that revolution always included a demand for healthcare as a basic human right. Hey, fam, thanks so much for watching. Don’t forget to like, share, subscribe and follow and let us know in the comments if you knew anything about the Black Panthers healthcare legacy, if you feel like there are any solutions they brought back then which could work today, and tell us also what you want to see us do next. We’ll see you next Sunday.